Friday, 16 December 2016

A year in Brexitland

It's probably a bit early to be writing one of those year review pieces but here goes anyway. 2016 has been a most uneventful year. For the most part I have been sat at my computer writing articles in the hope of injecting at least some sanity into the Brexit debate - and for the most part I have not succeeded. Too many sacred cows unjustly continue to suck up oxygen.

And I say uneventful because nothing really happened. Sure a bunch of celebrities died, but they tend to do that. And then there was that referendum thing. But that wasn't really anything much. It's not like there was a mass movement demanding our exit from the EU. There was an opinion poll on the establishment and at the last minute the people let out an inchoate howl of rage securing a pretty dismal majority.

What we learned is that most people, including our politicians have only a very dim perception of what the EU actually is. And no, I'm not saying the plebs didn't know what they were voting for. They voted for change and Brexit is very much the vehicle for that. What I'm saying is that there is a profound ignorance of what the EU is and particularly what it has become in recent years.

It seems odd to me that eurosceptics would have spent twenty years screaming from the rooftops that the EU is more than just a trade deal, and then when their wish is granted they think Brexit is just a matter whipping up a deal on border tariffs and skipping away without a care in the world. And then there's the remainers. They have no clue what the EU is otherwise they wouldn't even be remainers.

And in the wake of the Brexit vote we have had a long and protracted debate about democracy with very few having a coherent idea of what democracy is either. It has been a most confusing year. A year in which we voted to leave the EU for reasons related but almost entirely abstract to it.

What was most surprising was how short lived my elation was. The morning I awoke to see some very upset looking ministers on the television I was both stunned and cock-a-hoop. Insofar as one can be with a rotten hangover. It didn't feel real and in a lot of respects it still isn't.

Far from being the end of a long struggle, it marked only a milestone, where every day since the vote has been much the same as the six months preceding it, having to write the same things, explaining the same issues to the same people. Even now people on both sides who should know better are still trotting out wearisome memes that bear no relationship to the predicament we find ourselves in. There is an air of unreality to it. My job isn't over and I expect it won't be for a very long time to come. The campaign to shape Brexit is every bit as important as the campaign to leave it.

As you know I haven't allowed myself to be distracted by the various legal challenges. I viewed them as noise not central to the issue. It's all good fodder for the chatterers but there has never been any serious question that we are leaving. At no point have I been concerned that we won't leave - only that our lack of preparation will lead to a fudge - or a disaster - and both are still very real possibilities.

And far from being a sea change in politics, what we have seen is the establishment taking back control. (to coin a phrase). It is taking back control of parliament and the political narratives, with virtually no opposition in or out of the House of Commons and we are likely seeing a reversion to the norm. Having had no plan in place, and no coherent set of demands, the Brexiteers have squandered an event that did have some considerable revolutionary scope.

We may be leaving the EU but the government doesn't know what to do with the powers it will get when we do and no challengers waiting in the wings with new policy ideas. Consequently the Brexit we get will be one largely defined by the same class of people who took us in. It seems all it took to pacify the "revolt on the right" was a few new grammar schools, cuts to wind turbine subsidy and a mouthbreather as Defra minister. Did we really come so far to achieve so little?

And this is really my problem with Brexit now. It had no energy. Even the leave campaign was a Toryboy circle jerk which operated to the exclusion of all others. They made a lot of money and got their mates into spad jobs. The think tank shysters got their consultancy fees and newspaper columns and now everything pretty much goes back to normal. There was no vision or drive and even the Brexiteers have a pretty dismal view of what to do now we have left. They mutter something about tariffs and controlling borders, but have no real idea what that actually means.

I'm not saying we should not still leave since the EU is every bit as ossified and directionless as our own government. It just seems to me that the feeble showing by the leave side means that we have passed up an opportunity to redefine European democracy. And so to me, Brexit is just another thing to add to the pile of things we failed at. It will bring about policy renewal and it will bring about a change of economic policy, but it will be the same people tinkering in the same old ways taking their cue from the media rather than dealing direct with the people. We will be governed through their distorted prism once more. The establishment is as healthy as ever it was. Brexit hasn't made a dent.

In that regard, Brexit does not count as a highlight of the year. It's been a chore and the event itself is largely marked as being one of the more severe hangovers of the year having once again fallen asleep with the windows closed. If I had to pick a highlight, standing on the Cobb in Lyme Regis on a blustery day, being buzzed by a Merlin helicopter, was definitely up there, and perhaps overcoming my fear of public speaking is a big plus, but in the end, nothing compares with hanging out with my niece and taking a hovercraft to the Isle of Wight under a beautiful blue Solent sky. Those are the days that matter. Bugger Brexit. All you need is a hovercraft and a big old smile.

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